A lesson from Brené Brown

Seeing this on Tuesday stopped me in my tracks.


Brené Brown posted this in response to the continued aftermath of the mass shootings in Parkland and Newtown. I’m sharing it, because of my response: I was dumbstruck.

I know there is pain in the world. I know I carry my own and deal with it in healthy and unhealthy ways, like I assume many people do. Until I read this though, I didn’t know WHAT TO DO about it.

At first I thought, “How did I not know this? We’re supposed to look people in the eye?”

Then, “I wish I was taught this as a child like she was.”

Finally, “I’m being taught now. I can learn this now.”

Two hours later I had my chance, and to be honest it felt really awkward.

I was parked outside of a Starbucks on my phone, when I noticed two people talking / arguing in the car next to me. It wasn’t loud. I couldn’t tell for sure. When I looked up again, the man was gone and the woman remained in the driver’s seat leaning against the inside of the window in sunglasses, her lips and jaw clenched.

The instant I realized she was crying, my eyes darted away. Because that’s what I’d done my whole life. Assumed it was private and didn’t want to pry. Not wanting to be around difficult emotions is more like it, because even a car away with the windows closed, I could feel her pain. And my own.

Inside my head, the lesson began, “This is what Brené was talking about.”

Now, I didn’t handle it perfectly. I have a lot of learning still to do.

I didn’t leave my car and knock on her window. As a deer-caught-in-headlights sort of person, it’s really hard to remember I have legs at times like these, let alone how to use them.

What I did do was notice what was happening, notice my reaction, and stay present throughout. While she started shaking, the tears streaming passed her glasses and down her face, I looked over several more times. Soft glances to check in while lovingly sending her energy.

I stopped working on my phone and sat with her a car away.

That’s I think what Brené is asking us to do.

Look people in the eye. Acknowledge our mutual, complicated, uncomfortable humanity. Stop hiding behind our phones, or fiberglass.

It’s not going to be perfect, and as an A-student that’s a tough one.

Wanting to know WHAT TO DO so I can get it right. Some people don’t want to be approached, or say they don’t. Some people want it and don’t know how to ask. Some people want to reach out, but don’t know how or are afraid it will be rejected.

We all, everyone, have to push through that and reach out. Be present for each other, and ourselves, with tough emotions. We need to get it wrong, feel awkward, and keep at it.

Yes, be scared & do it anyway.

Thanks for the lesson, Brené.

Do you have a Smile File?

What makes you feel better on a tough day?

I normally turn first the deepest, darkest chocolate as if I could bury myself in it and the caffeine buzz would carry me through the rest of the day.

But it’s only a temporary delicious fix.

What hands-down always does the trick is looking in my Smile File.

If you don’t have one, I highly recommend building one or two right now. I have a physical folder in my file cabinet and a virtual one in my Dropbox (yes, so I can view it on every device. You don’t know where you’ll be when you need it!).

A Smile File is a place to collect cards, notes, encouragements, testimonials and thank-you’s. We all get them, and unfortunately many people wave them away before really receiving these gifts.

Because when you are appreciated, the other person is giving you a gift. I wrote previously about how important it is to accept compliments.

The Smile File takes it one step further. It says what you’ve been given is so precious you’re going to save it and savor it for a long time. I have birthday cards from years ago still in there because what was handwritten inside felt like I was really seen.

What else is there: sweet comments from Facebook, encouraging texts from friends, and emails from former clients months after we worked together raving about the changes they made and thanking me for being part of it. There’s also this brochure my mom and I were featured in for the cancer center where she was treated in 2015. The look on her face is priceless as it documents the end of a rough period for both of us.


Every time I dip into the physical and virtual folders, it feels like a nourishing hug.

Don’t get me wrong, it also feels a little uncomfortable. Like I should check the coast is clear so no one sees me look in there, because maybe this is selfish or self-centered and I’m not supposed to save these or need them.

But I do need them, and so do you!

It’s a natural human desire to feel acknowledged, loved and appreciated. The treasures in your Smile File remind you of the impact you’ve had in people’s lives so you can keep going.

It’s a cross between a sports coach on the sidelines cheering you on, and someone you love telling you it will be alright.

Everyone needs a Smile File and everyone has things to put in it as long as you recognize when people appreciate you, receive it, and save it.

What’s going in your Smile File?

I’d love to hear in comments!